When is it Bloatware?

Written by: Adam Christianson

Categories: Editorial

With the official word from Apple that Steve will give us a glimpse of Leopard at the World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) in August the media frenzy to predict new features is starting to roll into high gear. I have already seen many of the fakes which are surfacing around the web and now there is even a how-to so you can join the party. While surfing this morning I ran across this great article on MacWorld listing 23 new features some of the best minds in Mac media would like to see included in the upcoming OS X release. As I was reading the article and nodding in agreement to many of their suggestions I realized that for almost every “feature” they were recommending, they also pointed out a 3rd party program already available and already doing the job. Then I realized while I use many of these 3rd party applications myself there were others listed that I don’t use and I am not interested in using. So why are we, and Apple, seemingly so eager to pump up OS Xs feature set? With the last few releases of OS X we know Apple has set a precedence of “borrowing” concepts from great 3rd party developers and rolling them into OS X. The downside to this “borrowing” is we often alienate and lose these developers along with their innovative thinking. Plus, I wonder if there isn’t a better argument for not integrating so many features into the OS.

I use it, you must too
I really hate software that tries to be all things to all people. I don’t need my text editor to also play Tetris. Some developers like to pile on feature after feature not seeming to care that for the 500 MB of extra disk space the feature will use up, only 5% of their customers will care about or use that feature. Now I love Dashboard and Widgets, but I know many people who have never hit F12 in Tiger in their life and don’t care to. Now don’t get me wrong, I know Dashboard is probably more heavily used then some obscure feature in Microsoft Office 2004, but you get my point. What was so bad about needing to install Konfabulator to get Widgets? Dashboard takes up space, memory and processor resources. Why should we assume everyone wants to, or must, use it?

Integration vs Innovation
Integrating features does make things more convenient, but at what cost? Apple only releases major updates and revisions to their OS once a year or so. That means we won’t see major enhancements or improvements to most integrated features for at least a year. Developers of 3rd party software are highly focused on just their product and tend to maintain a much more aggressive release cycle. They can adapt, extend and roll out features much more quickly. 3rd party developers are also much more in tune to the wants and needs of their customers. They can take feedback and act on it much more quickly, getting us what we want as soon as it’s ready.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not at all against integration of new features. I just think we need to be careful. Even though hard drives are larger and less expensive than ever I don’t want an OS loaded with obscure features taking up 50GB of disk space. Think lean, mean and clean. Lets make sure OS X has a highly developed and polished core feature set offering the biggest benefit to the broadest range of consumers. I think there is much more value in seeing a great feature like Spotlight refined, enhanced and improved vs. Apple spending resources developing 10 new features for the OS that we may or may not use. Apple should continue to extend and innovate OS X, but I propose they set a high bar on which features actually make the final cut. Leave the more niche stuff to our great 3rd party developers. Let us tailor our OS X experience how we see fit without wasting processor cycles or disk space on stuff we don’t want or need.

There are 12 comments on When is it Bloatware?:

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  1. Leo | Jun 29 2006 - 01:53

    On the other hand, probably only Apple can include some features as deep into the OS as it is neccessary to get the best of it. (see Spotlight)

  2. maccast | Jun 29 2006 - 02:42

    Agreed, but lets focus on features like Spotlight that really enhace the core OS experience. Leave the extra bells and whistles to others.

  3. Avner | Jun 29 2006 - 02:54

    Technology is all about communication, both external, e.g. the Internet, and internal, within the software core. Building good APIs and communication mechanisms into the OS can replace bloated software and still allow for smart and tight intergration.

  4. g0rdo | Jun 29 2006 - 03:54

    I actually prefer for Apple to steal apps for developers. They polish them and eliminate the need for dangerous downloads.

  5. Bruce Aguilar | Jun 29 2006 - 11:52

    I hear what you’re saying g0rdo. Many times I’d rather have an app from Apple than a 3rd party. I usually feel more secure that the feature will be supported and won’t cause problems with the OS or other apps. Maybe it’s an irrational fear, but I usually tend to stay away from hacks and enchancement downloads.

    If Apple can integrate these kinds of features natively, I’m all for it. However, I also realize that a balnce has to be found. No one wants an over bloated OS, but I don’t think OS X has crossed that line. Inching closer twards it? Yes. But still a healthy distance away.

  6. Jim | Jun 30 2006 - 02:22

    What OS X 10.5 ‘Leopard’ actually needs, is what we should already have. I’ve blogged on this here..


  7. guy | Jun 30 2006 - 07:55

    Great piece Adam! I completely agree. I hate seeing 3rd party apps borrowed/stolen by Apple. Making Spotlight faster and more effective would be my number one desire for the new OS.

  8. Dave | Jun 30 2006 - 03:59

    I’m with you Adam. Just the other day I purchased a screenwriting app called Montage from Mariner Software, makers of the excellent MS Word and Excel replacements Write and Calc. This software has been in beta testing since Macworld ’06 and it is shaping up to be strong competition for Final Draft. The great thing is that these guys actually want to hear from their users about problems, so that they can fix them promptly, as well as requests for new features. Same goes with Panic Software and all their great apps. A big thanks to all the developers large and small out there that make such great software for the Mac platform.

  9. Takuya Murata | Jul 01 2006 - 12:42

    I have every mixed feeling about this old issue: what features should OS include? As an example Grapher comes to mind. It is probably one of programs that 99% of mac users would never use and which I use (as I study math). If we follow your advise, it should probably not be included but then I would probably never had a chance to know about it, let alone use it. Konfabulator provides the similar case for me. I hadn’t know about the program before 10.4 came out. Since dashboard was the part of OS, I didn’t have to install it but now I use it constantly to look up for words I don’t know or check the calendar.

    I completely agree with the theory behind the idea that Apple should not what 3rd parties can do and possibly better and instead focus on cores. It is just my experience with MacOS begs to differ.

  10. Tracy | Jul 01 2006 - 07:31

    My two cents:

    There are certain existing 3rd party apps which could be much better handled by Apple since they require “hacking” into the system or, on the opposite end, must use silly means of doing simple tasks because they cannot access the OS in ways that would make the apps better (some such apps are the desktop-switching applications… I find them to be relatively feature-poor, and the one that does have decent features (You Control), is slow when using some of the nicer features.. I believe this is due to the way it has to access and update system settings). I think Apple should take on more projects like this since they really are the only ones who could greatly improve on the performance, etc. It’d be really cool if they interacted with the 3rd party developers in some way instead of just making their own versions, though. But before I get side-tracked on that, let me continue.

    I really enjoy having the option of lots of features. I completely agree, however, that there are many people who don’t need or want all of these features. I think Apple should make it easy to add / remove OS features on an existing install (I can’t really say that this isn’t easy already because I actually haven’t tried).

  11. Jerry Henderson | Jul 20 2006 - 04:25

    Adam, I agree with your principle altogether. However, we live in an age when so much is possible as compared to say, even ten years ago. The technology industry is agog with new possibilities and is in a fever rush to make a buck on them. It’s like taking aim at the customer base with a blunderbus loaded with BB’s. I think that up to this point Apple has been the leader in making some cohesive sense with their OS working so seamlessly. I agree that to load the OS with toys, trinkets and baubles, which could be gotten off the shelf by individual users as they wanted or needed them, makes more sense. But as I said, what drives this industry, if not the American mind these days, is the idea that if it can be done then it should be done. To me,that is a scary idea. I think such a plan for Apple will catch up with them one day. You know, like philandering because you seem to be able to get away with it – for the time being.

  12. Kathy | Nov 02 2006 - 02:11

    Is this the Jerry Henderson from Kent Washington? If so, you need to own up to your DJ responsibilities